Tag: events

The Exchange (from an exchange of ideas)

Meetings, Teams No Comments

Just after the millennium I was planning a conference with a group of colleagues. In those days I called it ‘producing’ an event if I wanted to sound ‘hip’. Now I might say curating an experience! (Both are probably a bit naff, but let’s leave that for another time).

Anyhow, I expected about 150 people. But we started differently and that created a whole chain of events that led to a conference format unlike any of the others I had become well known for delivering during the 1990s.

What was the first step? The letter (email actually) that went out to invite participants to apply to come was unlike a typical one. Firstly it asked people to come only if they were really enthusiastic and ready to share their interest and create further excitement with others. Places were not limited to a few per organisation, which was normal, with the expectation of director level attendance. So secondly, in those days before social media, those who received the letter were asked to pass it on to others who might be interested, whatever their role. Thirdly, as the ‘price’ of entry those registering were asked to note their offers and requests on a registration form: they had to clearly state what they wanted to get (learn) and give (as ideas to share in the coffee queue or a table top discussion or a poster presentation).

The result? Over 650 applied. Fortunately we had to stop there as we had just bust the capacity for the venue, as usually configured. We didn’t even send one chasing up invite – again the norm for that sector at that time.

So, we then shifted gear to discovering a way to make it work, and came up with a format I still call Exchange. We focused on answering a question: “What if we could redesign the traditional conference: taking out the boring bits and the need for everyone to sit together at the same time?”

The Exchange method involves
a) A blend of more familiar conference formats: Open Space, trade fair and academic conference
b) Ensuring things are creatively captured – with artists, video – so those not there (and no one can attend everything), can get a sense of the whole, the proceedings.
c) Making use of music and media to create the right mood –including humour.
d) Promoting responsibility for finding your way – making good choices about what to go to, and how long to stay…so the meeting is self-organising within a clear framework and set of written briefings.
e) Simplifying catering – going continuous, brown bag…
f) Using overflow spaces if necessary – a barn and a marquee in this instance (sometimes linked by video)
g) And largely designing out plenary sessions (a couple of optional ‘magazine style’ fringe sessions in the round where most came, gathered round, sat on the floor)

I am happy to share the photos and video from this event – still quite moving getting on for 15 years later.

Subsequent innovations over the other Exchange events I helped with over the next 5+ years led to
1) Electronic systems to register, share ideas and pick and mix your own agenda.
2) Café sessions as an option – world, knowledge.
3) TED style punchy presentations (in the days before TED!).
4) Innovation with voting methods.
5) Motivational inputs with speakers, actors, music.
6) Introductory and ‘Masterclass’ level training – plus learning sets, co-consultancy
7) Visits and ‘raids’ to near by places.
8) Use of the emerging technologies and social media to link in colleagues and site remotely.

Whilst these days the technology for this sort of process is getting easier (especially with Twitter etc), all of these improvements arose from engagement with a classic design team. There are other things that more recent ‘exchange’ conversation with design groups are raising: how to add in a simulation or some of the ideas from this resource.

So the key for success?
a) Inviting passion, questions and contribution in those coming.
b) A Design Team to imagine what might be and to challenge assumptions – iterating and developing the ideas as they go
c) A bespoke approach – cherry picking the best and most useful of other tools and methods.

Fundamentally, the overall lesson in the success of this story is the innovation that invented a new format. And at the heart of this innovation was being deeply curious about
1) How could we say yes to all – we did build it and they did come! So, we spent time imagining ways to host all (including an option that involved a trek outside for some – a walk and talk with a task that connected to the overall theme).
2) How to make it a memorable (yet recognisable) meeting by copying and reusing elements from other formats – it was fresh and familiar at the same time. Tried and trusted methods were combined in new ways.

So, the open and respectful exchange of ideas in the design process led to The Exchange.


A new energiser

Plan No Comments

Student loan protestIn our facilitation skills training course, we teach the importance of using energisers in meetings to shift the mood, energy and attention.  We get someone to have a go with an energiser of their choice. Recently this has involved someone trying Laughter Therapy with their colleagues and Pair Charades (acting out an important theme from the morning’s work).

However, this week we came across an entirely new form of energiser. During a session with a charity in central Westminster on Thursday 9th December, we had to schedule regular dashes to the window to observe the state of the Student Loan protests: cat and mouse chases with the police and, at times, a near-riot outside (see the photo from a movie of the action).

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